After too long a hiatus, our running series of alumni interviews, From AC 2nd to…, continues today with Jon White (’90, GS ’12), who double-majored in History and International Relations at Bethel and now manages reporting, analytics, and research for Minnesota Public Radio. Jon, who completed his MBA at Bethel last year, has worked for a variety of nonprofits and businesses, including the Minnesota Medical Foundation, Carleton College, and Deluxe Corporation. In the interview he explains how studying history helped him develop the research and critical thinking skills he uses every day in his job.
1. How did you decide to major in History?
Two things drove my majors: Curiosity and Serendipity. Many years before Bethel, I was absorbing U.S. News and World Report and National Geographic magazines from cover to cover. Though undecided until my junior year at Bethel, my first two years had been invested in sampling courses of interest in the humanities and social sciences — as well as some gravitation to specific professors including Kevin Cragg, G.W. Carlson, and John Lawyer [Bethel’s longtime international relations professor]. At the same time, I kept an eye on my Gen Ed requirements — and things fell into place for me to earn the double major.
2. Did you worry about what you would “do with” a major like History, or did you have a specific career track in mind?
Some people worry about that kind of thing. I was never one of them. My plan was to study what I found of interest while learning to learn, to interview for challenging jobs and internships, and to take the Foreign Service Exam upon graduation. Getting a teaching certificate or a Master’s in History were also short-term options on the table. The first two worked out so well that I never went with either back-up route — until I went back to Bethel for an MBA in 2009. A part-time job in the Deluxe Corp’s Corporate Research Department during my junior and senior years reinforced the value of thinking, understanding, and communicating that were critical components in my college education. That part-time position led to a full-time role at Deluxe when I graduated from Bethel.
3. Tell us a bit about your current work with Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). Do you feel like your studies in History connect directly or indirectly to what you do now? (Or perhaps to your graduate work in an MBA program?)
As MPR’s Manager of Prospect Research for the past three years, my undergraduate studies have helped me be more effective in fulfilling the core responsibilities of identifying and outlining connection points that can bring philanthropists and foundations closer the organization. The research and critical thinking skills developed in undergrad allow me to find information, synthesize data, see patterns, and draw connections for the Philanthropic Development department and for customers throughout the organization. For example, over the past year I have provided background information on many of the guests heard on Wits, supported the nascent custom travel program, and helped identify members for various high level volunteer committees.
In addition to those research-focused activities, I manage the Reporting and Analytics function at MPR. While statistical analysis and data reporting may seem disconnected from the study of History, the ability to provide context and communicate a story is as important as getting the numbers right. As students of History, we are accustomed to seeking an interpretive framework that goes beyond facts to drive understanding. That applies to data as well: Without context, statistics are incomplete — if not misleading.
Similarly, in working on my Bethel MBA from 2009 to 2012, my research, communication, and critical thinking skills supported my success in the program. Even eighteen months after graduation, the ability to understand Context helps fit sometimes-incongruous concepts from school and work together to bring about improvements tailored to the needs of the organization.
4. You’ve worked in the private and nonprofit sectors, as well as higher education… What advice would you give our current students who might be interested in pursuing careers in those fields?
First, play to your strengths. If you have not already figured out what they are, schedule an appointment with Career Services, pronto.
Second, over the past twenty-five years employment has taken a back seat to employability. While the nonprofit sector lags behind the for-profit sector on this particular curve, job eliminations are becoming commonplace throughout the economy. A life-learner approach to acquiring knowledge and skills that meet current and future workplace demands will increase your employability. Use your skills and make connections to understand the sectors; comprehend their unique languages, cultures, and expectations; and recognize the needs of your target markets — especially potential employers. Keep in mind that the Career Development Center is a resource you can never use too much, and you might find a lot of help from professors, grads, church members, and parental peers.
A third thing to keep in mind: Some people say that employees do not work for an organization — they work for a boss (or quit on one). That applies to sector, company, and department. However you define it, a “good boss” is beyond price, while a “bad boss” is a ticket to disengagement — if not outright dissatisfaction in work. In my experience, bosses good and bad are found in every sector. When you are in a position to choose a boss, choose wisely by leveraging those research and analysis skills you are picking up in your History classes.